When taking an in depth look into the life story of a relevant figure, it is usually possible to highlight a specific moment that defines the transformation of a regular individual into a leader, Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer are no exceptions. The following section will cover the defining moment that made them into the climate leaders that they are considered today. In order to do so, this section will answer what made the moment impactful and why it inspired people to act.
Greta Thunberg´s defining moment
Greta Thunberg´s defining moment in her environmental journey was her first act of activism she undertook in 2018: her daily sit down in front of the Swedish parliament to protest against the lack of action to tackle global warming. That first strike sparked what would become an international youth movement for the climate, known as Fridays For Future (FFF). It inspired not only the younger generations, but also forced senior officials and politicians to intensify efforts to combat global warming.
At the time of her first strike in front of the Swedish Parliament House, Thunberg was 15 years old. The new academic year had just started, but instead of returning to class after the summer period was over, she went to the island of Helgeanshomen, in the center of Stockholm, to sit down in front of the Riksdag with a sign that read Skolstrejk För Klimatet (Schoolstrike for the Climate). She did so to protest against the inaction of the Swedish government to create suitable public policies to adequately tackle global warming. She continued her strike for weeks. During this time, she also posted her activism on social media platforms, allowing her protest to reach others who shared her concerns, and joined her strike in cities all around the world.
This individual protest slowly set into motion a beyond borders campaign for the climate that led to the creation of Fridays For Future, a youth-led and organized movement that aims to ensure that national governments follow through with the objectives agreed upon on the Paris Agreement of 2015: limit the rising temperatures to 1.5º Celsius in comparison to pre-industrial levels and encourage a progressive transition of the global economies to green renewable energies.
Thunberg’s decision to skip class and start striking for the climate cannot be understood without explaining her own backstory and the background she was raised in. Her parents exercised a great influence on her decision to start an active campaign to protest against global warming. They not only allowed her to miss school in order to sit at the Swedish Parliament, they also took Thunberg to Helgeandsholmen every single day and stayed with her until nightfall. However, it was not always like that. In the beginning, her parents dismissed her ideas regarding climate activism, but the deterioration of Thunberg’s medical condition made them reconsider what was best for their daughter, and decided to support her climate journey.
The day Thunberg decided to stand with her sign to demand more action to be taken on behalf of national governments to increase efforts to combat manmade global warming, she started a wave of change in the way society perceived climate activism. Her posts on social media regarding her activism in the streets of Stockholm reached people from all ages and nationalities. Particularly, those who became more involved with the campaign she had created were her peers, and youth from all around the world. Thunberg’s activism transformed from solitary strikes with a cardboard sign to public speeches and demonstrations all across Europe, inspiring school students to strike on Fridays. Her characteristic style of activism, influenced by her unique features and background, contributed to giving her demands the notoriety she was striving for.
She started to receive invitations from senior politicians and international bodies to participate in events concerning global warming. The first on her long list of official speeches was given during the plenary session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) in 2018, where she met fellow climate activist and co-organiser of FFF Luisa Neubauer. This was the first international event in which she gave an official speech, in which she criticized politicians and government officials, whom she accused of “not being mature enough” to properly tackle the climate crisis. From that moment onwards, Thunberg’s life became a struggle to ensure climate justice for everyone.
From the moment her protest in front of the Riksdag went viral, back in 2018, Thunberg became a beacon of the fight against climate inaction. She was able to transform an individual street protest in a single European city into an international youth-led movement with the potential of having an active influence in public policies and national governments.
Her own youth at the time of her sitdown in Stockholm is an element that contributes to her perception as a leader for the younger generations, despite the fact that senior politicians and officials have attempted to belittle her image as a climate activist because of her young age. Thunberg’s overpowering of these diminishing remarks has set an example for the future generation, to which she herself belongs, on how to keep the battle for the climate alive in spite of the efforts of external actors to maintain the climate situation as it is. She clearly expressed this very idea in her address to the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019, where she said that “You [politicians and senior officials] are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you.”
Luisa Neubauer’s Defining Moment
In some cases, what makes a leader is not a single defining moment, but a conjunction of several events and circumstances that can propel the transformation of an ordinary individual into an inspiring figure. That is the case of German climate activist Luisa Neubauer. The following section will analyze the series of episodes that led Neubauer to play an active role in fighting global warming as a climate activist, transforming her into the environmental leader she is today. Furthermore, this piece will display why her journey has become a source of inspiration for future generations in the field of climate activism.
Neubauer’s was a transformation motivated by a combination of personal situations, international events and spontaneous encounters, which started in 2015 with the passing away of her father and the crafting of the Paris Agreement; and culminated three years later, when she met fellow climate activist Greta Thunberg at a climate summit in December of 2018. The two events in 2015 had a deep influence on her perception of loss and grief, — which she associated both with her father and the decaying situation of the planet due to global warming — and drove her initial involvement in climate advocacy. It was not until she met Thunberg that she decided to engage in concrete acts of climate activism, which led to Neubauer organizing the first international strike for the climate in early 2019. Henceforth, her activism has inspired millions of young people to get involved in strikes and protests all around the world.
In every interview regarding her first steps in efforts to combat manmade global warming, Neubauer has always highlighted the year 2015 as a turning point, not only in her journey as a climate activist, but also in her life. She learned her father was terminally ill at the age of 19, and that created in her a sense of anxiety and uncertainty regarding the future like she had never felt before. After his passing in early 2015, Neubauer was left with loss and grief. Those same feelings reemerged later that same year, at the UNFCCC that took place in Paris, during which the Paris Agreement was crafted and signed. The necessity of an official international agreement to combat manmade global warming led Neubauer to the realization that the situation in which the planet found itself had reached a critical point of almost no return.
The sense of potential loss of our planet, alongside the mourning of her father, drove her to get involved with environmental NGOs and social causes. This is how her journey as a relevant figure in the fight against global warming began, and it would evolve into an international and youth-led climate movement, currently known as Fridays For Future.
In 2018, Neubauer had already been involved in climate advocacy for a couple of years, but she still had not engaged in any action that could be considered activism. In December of that year, she was invited to the UNFCCC in Katowice, Poland as the head of a German Youth Delegation for the Youth4Climate, which unites young figures in the field of climate advocacy in order to boost youth-driven climate solutions. Over the course of the conference, she had the opportunity to meet Greta Thunberg, who had recently acquired notoriety because of her School Strike for the Climate in front of the Swedish parliament.
Neubauer, impressed by Thunberg’s commitment to the efforts to combat manmade global warming, decided to join in the sit-down she was undertaking at the summit. She considers that protest in Katowice her first act of climate activism. It set the stage for her involvement in the organization of the first international strike for the climate in March of the following year, which would evolve into an international and youth-led climate movement known as Fridays For Future. Her active role in the strike as a co-organiser culminated her process of becoming a climate leader, casting her as one of the main faces of the movement.
Therefore, as it was previously stated, it is not possible to identify a key defining moment in Neubauer´s climate journey. Rather, it was prompted by a shared sense of loss and grief for her father and the planet she lives in back in 2015, and it reached its landmark with her implication in the climate campaign started by Thunberg in the streets of Stockholm.
Luisa Neubauer has proven that it is possible to overcome grief and turn that feeling into fuel to achieve a positive outcome. In spite of her youth, and also because of it, she has been able to reframe the general public’s perception of what environmental activism really is about: saving the planet through alliances of ordinary citizens, from all countries, ages and social backgrounds.
Both Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer are pioneering environmental activists that have acquired a high degree of notoriety and relevance because of their association with the Fridays For Future movement, which they helped launch. Yet, the course until reaching the point in which they acquired the public consideration of climate leaders was unique for each of them in the way their personal backgrounds had a powerful impact in their decisions in their path of climate activism.
Thunberg´s strike in front of the Riksdag already shaped her as an aspiring figure for future generations in regards to climate activism, and from that first moment on she continued her involvement in public protests. As for Neubauer, she did not actively engage in environmental activism from the start of her journey to becoming a leading figure in the fight against global warming, and therefore was not perceived as such from the beginning like Thunberg was. Neubauer´s concerns for the current climate situation drove her to associate with several NGOs and organizations that were advocates of the climate issue, but without taking an active role in climate activism.However, similarities can also be found between Thunberg and Neubauer when analyzing their respective key events as climate leaders. They both got involved in climate advocacy at a very early stage in their lives, with none of them having reached their twenties, and both of them have been diminished in their demands because of it. But their spirit never flattered, and they took advantage of their youth to join forces and inspired the younger generation to join them in protests and strikes all around the world. They both helped in the creation of a global movement to protect the climate led by the youth of every country, with the goal of increasing the pressure put on national governments and multilateral organizations to fulfill the objectives set in the Paris Agreement. That accomplishment is what made both of them, to the eyes of the world, leading figures in climate activism.